Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I’ve heard a lot of things about the writings of the Beat Generation, both good and bad. Some have called them the voice of the post-WWII population, seeking out meaning in life and happiness. Others have called them drug-addled idiots who couldn’t put together a coherent thought in their writings, and wrote them off as having no literary merit whatsoever.

Having just finished finished On the Road, I can conclude that, at the very least, Jack Kerouac was a hell of a writer, and communicated in a way that really did help to define what was effectively a lost generation, trying to figure out life and meaning, having rejected the lives their mothers and fathers would have had for them.  I look forward to reading more of Kerouac’s exploits in the future.

There’s not exactly a plot to On the Road, at least nothing in the form of the great plot mountain we all learned about in middle school. The story follows Sal Paradise (Kerouac) around the country as he hitchhikes, does drugs, drinks, and has sex with women.  The other members of the Beat generation are there too (Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, etc.) all with their own pseudonyms, but the one that Sal spends the most time with in these exploits is Dean Moriarity (Cassady), a manic felon who runs around digging everything, often at the expense of everyone around him, including Sal.  By the end of the novel, he’s been married three times and fathered four kids.  Throughout the book, no one particularly cares for Dean’s wild antics, save for Sal, who can put up with him, and Carlo Marx (Ginsberg), which only lasts as long as Carlo and Dean are actually in the same place.

On the surface, there’s not much to this book.  As mentioned above, it’s all sex, drugs, alcohol, jazz, and travelling around the country.  What you begin to see, though, is a group of people desperate to experience and enjoy new things in life that they will try ANYTHING to kill the loneliness they all carry because of abandoned parents and existential angst and  (in one or two cases) suppressed homosexuality.  They want something different from the life the previous generation gave them, and would do anything to get away from it and experience the heart of life.  Their writings and thinking would later influence the rise of the Hippie generation, something for which Kerouac actually held great disdain.

In an interview, Kerouac, who claimed to be a devout Catholic, claimed that the entirety of the book was a story of two Catholic friends searching for God in America.  According to Kerouac, they found him.  I don’t know if they did or not, but Kerouac inspires me to further my own search for God, whether on the road or right where I am.

Alright, I’m off to bottle my homebrew.  Have a good one, folks!


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